US opens safety probe into GM robotaxis

US safety regulators have opened a formal safety probe into the autonomous driving system in vehicles produced by General Motors Co’s robotaxi unit Cruise, following reports of two injuries in rear-end crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it has received notices of incidents  in which self-driving Cruise vehicles “may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized”.

The agency added that while both issues “appear to be distinct, they each result in the Cruise vehicles becoming unexpected roadway obstacles.” 

The safety agency’s preliminary evaluation covers 242 Cruise autonomous vehicles and is the first step before it could seek a recall.

The investigation follows reports of three crashes in which Cruise vehicles were struck from behind by other vehicles after the autonomous vehicles braked quickly.

Cruise is currently offering limited service in San Francisco with a small fleet of Chevrolet Bolt EVs, having announced last week it had secured the first of the two California permits it needs to charge riders night and day across all of San Francisco, where it currently sells trips in a small part of the city.

In a statement Cruise said that it has “driven nearly 700,000 fully autonomous miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities. … There’s always a balance between healthy regulatory scrutiny and the innovation we desperately need to save lives, which is why we’ll continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA or any regulator in achieving that shared goal.”

NHTSA said it plans to fully assess the potential safety-related issues posed by these two types of incidents and will review “the commonality and safety logic of the hard-braking incidents” and the “frequency, duration and safety consequences associated with the vehicle immobilization incidents.”

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